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Pritzker hails newly signed criminal justice reform bill as ‘substantial step’ in erasing ‘systemic racism’

Chicago Sun Times

Tuesday, February 23, 2021  |  Article  |  Rachel Hinton

Pritzker, J.B.

State Rep. Justin Slaughter, who shepherded the bill through the House, said Monday starts a “new day, a new chapter” after last year’s civil unrest: “We are going from protesting, coming together collectively for one cause — to signing a bill.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a sweeping criminal justice bill into law Monday, moving Illinois closer to ending cash bail and requiring police officers to wear body cameras — arguing the package will lead to “true safety, true fairness and true justice.”


But Republicans disagreed, calling the new law “an insult to our first responders, law enforcement and the law-abiding citizens.”


The 764-page criminal justice bill was crafted by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus. It passed the General Assembly last month during the Legislature’s lame duck session.


It ends cash bail in the state, creates a statewide certification program for police officers, mandates three phone calls for detainees and allows for more judicial discretion in sentencing.


Ahead of the signing, Pritzker said the bill “marks a substantial step toward dismantling the systemic racism that plagues our communities, our state and our nation” and brings the state closer to “true safety, true fairness and true justice.”


“Today, thanks to the hard work of so many people and those watching at home, we advance our values into law, progress secured despite the pandemic because of the passion and the push of the Legislative Black Caucus, activists, advocates and residents intent on leaving a better Illinois for all of our children,” Pritzker said at a bill-signing ceremony at Chicago State University.


Pritzker said opponents “don’t want any change, don’t believe there is injustice in the system and are preying upon fear of change to lie and fear monger in defense of the status quo.”


Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, who appeared during the ceremony by video, also addressed her comments to those who “engage in the fear-mongering rhetoric,” saying “this legislation is just the starting point for the continued work that we must do collectively, collaboratively to ensure that all of our communities are safe and just.”


State Rep. Justin Slaughter, who helped steer the package through the House, said lawmakers will have to “evolve, level-set with law enforcement, talk about these issues — talk about these challenges” before pieces of the bill go into effect, to make sure everyone is on the same page.


The end of cash bail won’t go into effect until January 2023, and municipalities will be on a rolling compliance schedule to use body cameras with complete compliance by 2025, Slaughter has said.


Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton said it’s “time to look at criminal justice policy through an equity lens and tell the truth about how systemic racism” has disproportionately affected Black people.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle echoed Stratton’s remarks, saying “today we’re taking another step toward achieving a more fair and equitable criminal justice system, one that for far too long has protected the wealthy, and has too often leaned on punitive practices against people whose only crime was being poor.”


Some legislators and law enforcement groups urged Pritzker not to sign the bill, which they say will create “major public safety issues” for Illinois.


House Republican Leader Jim Durkin said the governor’s decision to sign the bill shows he’s “turned his back” on the “good men and women of law enforcement.”


“The governor’s support of House Bill 3653 is an insult to our first responders, law enforcement and the law-abiding citizens of Illinois who want to live free of violence and destruction from the criminal element,” the Western Springs Republican said in a statement.


“It’s clear that Gov. Pritzker does not understand this bill and what it means to our criminal justice system. Illinois and its citizens will not be safer because of this bill. ... At a crucial time when we should coalesce around the good men and women of law enforcement, Gov. Pritzker has turned his back on them with his signature on House Bill 3653.”


Rep. Tim Ozinga, R-Mokena, said he was disappointed “the governor decided to toss these concerns aside instead of vetoing this legislation and allow the General Assembly to do our work correctly.”


A coalition of Illinois law enforcement leadership said in a January statement the “so-called ‘reforms’” in the bill “would destroy law enforcement’s ability to keep communities safe.”


Sponsors of the bill have said those complaints are little more than “fear mongering.”


Pritzker said Monday he’s “very confident” the bill will make policing, and the public, safer.


State Sen. Elgie Sims, D-Chicago, said other states that have moved away from the cash bail system have experienced “no marked increase in crime.”


Crime survivors say parts of sweeping reform bill help reduce their trauma and allow them to ‘move on to the next stage in your life’

“What keeps down crime is the ability for individuals to be caught,” Sims said. “Those are the things that deter crime, not more harsh sentences.”


Monday starts a “new day, a new chapter,” Slaughter said.